For anyone not aware, Adrian Underhill has joined the blogosphere and will be blogging on his pronunciation chart and its uses.
While I’m not a fan of pron charts as I think they are simply another alphabet for students to learn when what they really need is the practice making and recognizing the sounds, I am a big fan of his notion of making pronunciation physical. There are some nice videos on youtube of him giving a workshop on this here (1, 2, 3, 4).
In my work in Turkey I have not found much need to focus on the pronunciation of individual sounds as Turks have very little trouble in this area. For Turkish pronunciation issues see here, here and here (hit cntrl+f to scroll down immediately to pronunciation).
Two areas where Turks do have a bit of a problem is with “th” sounds and “v” vs. “w.” One of the first things I noticed with this issue, and where I really agree with Adrian, is that the physical nature of these sounds needs to be modeled and practiced. Things like tongue placement, vibration, and air flow all become really important.
To make the “th” sound in English we put our tongue between our teeth. My Turkish students absolutely hate this. They find it very unnatural and sticking your tongue out is seen as a tad rude. To really get my students doing this, I quickly realized I had to vastly over exaggerate the tongue placement. I would stand in front of the class and stick my tongue half way out of my mouth and appear really silly overall. I would then get my students to follow suit. Regular practice in this way along with consistent reinforcement through correction in the class and students pick it up really quick.
Aside from that, my pronunciation work in Turkey tends to focus on linking words and weak forms as Turks have a habit of speaking in a staccato by separating every word out in a sentence.
Where I really learned the need to focus on pronunciation of individual sounds was when I moved to Vietnam. Vietnamese pronunciation is some of the worst I’ve ever come across. There are two main reasons for this: 1) Vietnamese speakers don’t use their tongues when they speak. They generally rest on the bottom of their mouths. 2) There are no final consonants in Vietnamese so their brains actually never developed the ability to hear a consonant at the end of a word. Since they can’t hear it, they can’t say it. Since they can’t say it, they can’t hear it. It’s a pronunciation teacher’s worst nightmare.
I quickly started introducing whole lessons on pronunciation. This involved modeling a lot and getting students to stare at my mouth, which was strange for me. I had to do a lot of the reverse as well – staring at students’ mouths and making sure mouth and tongue placement were correct. I also learned to draw a lot of pictures detailing mouth position, illustrate sounds with air vs. no air (a piece of paper held in front of your mouth is good for this), and vibration vs. no vibration.
As Adrian points out, rather than just having students listen and copy the sounds you are making, really get them involved with the physical nature of the sounds. I actually found that pronunciation lessons always ended in lots of laughter as people try really hard to make foreign sounds.
What kind of pronunciation work do you do in your classes? Do you focus on the physical nature of pronunciation in any way? Do you have any good activities for doing so?
Useful pronunciation activities:
Reverse dictation. Students read out sentences and the teacher writes what they hear on the board. This is often very enlightening to students as they don’t realize what they sound like.
Recording students saying a sentence in class and then comparing it to the recording of other English speakers.
Holding paper in front of your mouth to practice consonants with/without air (very useful for beginning “t” vs. final “t”, “v” vs. “f”, or “b” vs. “p”)
Tongue twisters are always fun.
The line game for minimal pairs – students stand in a line and the teacher says a word involving one of a set of minimal pairs. For example “w” and “v” If the students hear a “w” word they have to jump to the left, if they hear a “v” word they have to jump to the right. Eventually, switch the teacher out for a student.
Minimal Pair Maze - Draw a tree like below and label it with cities. Then choose a minimal pair and writes words using the two to the left and right of the maze. The teacher calls out a word and students follow along on their maze according to the direction on the maze (in this case, left for “t” and right for “th”) In the end, students compare what city they ended up in. Then get the students to do it. (A side note: I always choose cities that Turkish speakers are likely to goof up so they get some city vocab practice in as well).